Ian Tregillis is an American author known for his alternative history novels. His first series title the Milkweed Triptych takes us back to an alternative version of World War II and what would have happened if magic existed during the war. Those stories put Ian Tregillis on my radar and when I found out that he had written a new science fiction/alternative history novel involving machines, my excitement was through the roof. The mechanical is a very gripping, creative, and fast-paced story that everybody can enjoy. I’m constantly on the look out for books that can build a bridge for fantasy readers wanting to dabble in a sci-fi world. Thanks to Ian Tregillis descriptive but easy flowing narrative, we achieve that goal and set the reader up for a great story regarding war, religion, philosophy, and the question of free will.
In The Mechanical, we see the Dutch as the super-power in the world powered by their invention of the Forge by Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century. With this breakthrough, the Dutch were able to develop an army of clockwork automations in order to conquer the known world. Today, in the early 1900’s, the French Papists are the only resistance and they have been scattered across the sea to a new base of operations, but they have spies working for them among the Dutch officers. The clockwork automations are capable of intelligence but they are bound to the service of their masters through a series of geasa or tasks they must complete before they are destroyed by the pressure and pain within. The story begins with the executions of a group of French spies as well as a rogue automation also known as a Clakker. The rogue Clakker has found the ability to obtain free will and to disobey is geasa, but this can not stand for the Dutch as he is thrown into the Forge with all the other Clakkers thinking, how can I obtain free will?
We follow three primary characters in this story. First we follow Jax, a Clakker who witnessed the executions on his way to doing a choir for his masters. Jax is the main focus of this story and you feel for his people as they struggle through everyday life as a slave with practically no end in sight. Jax task eventually takes him to Father Luuk Visser, a religious symbol and a French spy in disguise. When Visser learns that Jax and his master are to board a ship and head for the New World (North America), he send him with an object to be delivered. Eventually Jax makes it to the New World, but he discovers that he is no longer beholden to his masters commands and he has obtained free will. Jax must flee before he is discovered and destroyed by the very people he has served for years. The final character we follow is French spymistress Berenice Charlotte de Mornay-Périgord. Her agents of spies in the Netherlands has been all but eradicated and she is stuck experimenting of Clakkers to determine how free will can be accomplished in order to destroy the Brasswork Throne. These three story lines eventually come together in an ultimate climax so amazing that I will be doing a disservice by putting it into words.
Ian Tregillis writing style is well-suited for darker, more evocative stories. His prose is so tight and it always flows well with the narrative, not to mention he can also be ferociously detailed when he needs to be. He draws you in and makes you feel for his characters, so that everything that happens to them matters, even (or perhaps especially) when the shit massively hits the fan. There are some very dark moments in The Mechanical and it kept me turning the pages to see what could possible happen next. The world is beautifully written and well thought out as if you are watching a discovery channel documentary from early America.
Any fantasy fan looking to try an alternative history with some sci-fi elements included should definitely pick up The Mechanical. The plot moves along very well towards the ending and setting up book 2 very nicely. The philosophical questions asked in this book is what kept me coming back to this world time after time until I put down the book and said “wow, I could never write something like that”.
Thank you very much for your work Mr. Tregillis. Job well done!